For disclaimers, see Chapter 1
No! roiled through Lonnie's troubled mind. It won't be like that! It can't be!
Later after Lonnie roused the small blonde and they headed to bed, Ruby, for once, slept fitfully while Lonnie tossed and turned. A million worries from Ruby's earlier words confronted her. What did Ruby know? Somehow did she know she wouldn't ever...?
Lonnie buried her face in the small blonde's hair, softly put her arm around the pregnant figure. But still she fretted. Ruby. Her beloved Ruby. She'd just found her after what seemed like a lifetime of searching. She couldn't spoon close enough to the small woman. She couldn't absorb enough of her warmth, inhale enough of her scent.
Don't give that conversation purchase, she told herself. Don't give the thoughts strength. Don't think about it. Easier said than done.
Thursday morning found the brunette tired. She had three regular orders at work and her rush order to supervise. I don't have time to think about what Ruby said right now. Maybe we should talk about it more later tonight.
Ruby stretched, I've taken care of necessary business. She moved out to the chaise, kissed Lonnie goodbye and the tall brunette headed off to work, warmed by green eyes sparkling back at her with a feel of resigned satisfaction as she left.
Lonnie would never be satisfied nor resigned to such thoughts. Never. But it did bring a little sigh of relief from her to see Ruby looking and feeling better. On her way to work she checked again. Her cell phone was on. She was taking no chances, especially after their discussion.
At work Lonnie was glad to see the sales representatives weren't in yet and had a big meeting called for when they did arrive. They tended to be terribly overbearing during the rush season, sometimes wanting last minute changes that it was Lonnie's job to materialize. As if things weren't driven hard enough as it was. The sales staff handheld the customers and pressured the printing department until everyone was ready to scream.
Lonnie often ran interference, calmly explaining to the sales person and the customer alike how simple changes could make their assembled artwork and copy doable, but she had no time for that now. Most of the conferencing had been done anyway. Now it was time to get it done and out the door. And, of course, the customer always wanted it yesterday. They were so rushed Lonnie decided she needed to get more out of her staff just to get by.
She decided to involve Stan more in the rush order on her screen. He wasn't her favorite person, but he did seem to be developing an understanding of how the printing process worked. It was time he helped with some of the more intricate areas of an order. He had moved his chair over beside hers to view the computer work and her notes as she pointed out some problem areas when the phone rang.
"Lonnie Shaeker," Lonnie answered the call immediately. She glanced at the computer screen. This rush order had more than its share of snags. They couldn't print it off until the mock up came up to Lonnie's standards.
"Hey, Lonnie, it's Nyri," her old friend's voice came through the line.
"Oh, hi Nyri," Lonnie relaxed and her voice sounded relieved. She worried it might be a call from Ruby saying she didn't feel well again. She didn't want to stay on the phone too long, just in case. She pointed to an area on the monitor and nodded to Stan to work there. She moved over so he had room to do so.
"Just a quick call to bring you up to date. I was going to call you last night but it was awfully late by the time that Historical Society Christmas Author's Party ended. They're having their big sale this weekend."
"Oh, yeah. I go to those when I can."
"Uh, tell Ruby congratulations. That's why I called. Her name change has gone through. Chase'll probably call you to let you know. Anyway, it's official."
"Wow! So soon! That's unbelievable! Chase is in Hawaii on her honeymoon. But thanks, Nyri. That was so fast! How did you do that? Who'd you know, a judge or something?"
More than a judge, Nyri thought to herself. "Something like that," she said instead. As an up and coming computer expert, she'd worked for the feds right out of high school. One of the places they'd used her expertise was in the Witness Protection Program. She still did some freelance for them, and she knew all the tricks and all the right sources to tap. But she didn't ever give out her sources, even to old, trusted pals like Lonnie.
Lonnie's grin was wide. This friend was remarkable. Face like an angel, disposition something far different. "Trouble" had seemed like her middle name. But then, the same could have been said for Lonnie. They'd been really tight in high school. And she knew Nyri'd worked for the feds right after that. She didn't know if she still did.
It didn't surprise her that the feds had courted Nyri. Her talent was exceptional. It did surprise her that her friend had gone to work for them. Nyri had never been one to follow the rules...not anybody's rules. And government work is famous for rules and cumbersome regulations.
Nyri's family was old money. But she was a rebel. This friend seemed comfortable with all kinds of people from every VIP and high society folk in the city to some of the bums under the bridges and the rest of the community in-between. Nyri and Simone were the mayor's token gays and were often seen in the society pages at fancy social and political soirees. And besides contacts, Lonnie knew how skilled Nyri was. But then, she'd been that way in high school, too.
"Well, thanks, Nyri. That's wonderful news. She'll be so thrilled. I'll call Ruby right away and tell her."
"Good. I know we've barely gotten into the full swing of the holidays, but I, for one, will be glad when they end and all the social madness is over. Then I can concentrate more on this. Anyway, tell Ruby congratulations, she's now officially Ruby Shaeker."
"Should I change her records here at work?"
"No. If I understand correctly her employment only goes to the end of this month. Let it go that way. The records I've found seem to show she's paid out of LA, and that's enough to throw off anyone looking for her."
Would anyone still be looking for her? That thought alarmed Lonnie a little. "You mean like that guy?"
"Okay. Uh, I'll be adding her to my health insurance."
"In January. She has her own till then."
"Her own insurance is under her old name, right?"
"Okay, try this. Have her health records changed since that's what she'll use at the hospital and get a new card for her, but see if you can get your Payroll person to leave her other name on her payroll check. If that's not possible, it's no biggie."
"Okay. I'll try."
Nyri hesitated, wondering whether to mention this or not. But she knew and trusted Lonnie, "Uh, just between you and me, I've buried Ruby's new name change records. Nothing a simple clerical error couldn't have caused. They're still there, you understand, they're just not as readily available now as they might have been. Anybody looking for her, will discover that she's not that easy to find. They'd probably skip right on to LA thinking that's where she lives."
"Do you think that's necessary? Do you think he's still looking for her?" That sobering thought gave Lonnie pause.
Nyri hesitated, "I...hope not, but I dunno. He sounds pretty wacko to me. And her credit reports showed activities that undoubtedly were related to having her purse stolen, but one can't be too careful. A couple applications under her name for new cards at addresses that weren't hers. Things like that. Beginning attempts at identity theft is what it looks like."
"Already? My gosh."
"Oh yeah, those guys don't waste any time. But I've flagged all of them and will keep an eye on it, and she filed a police report, so they shouldn't be a problem. I think we pretty much cut them off at the pass before they could start, but, like I said, I don't like the sounds of the fellow you described. Anybody brazen enough to commit the vicious crime he did in the first place then still come back to try and find her again has some serious screws loose, if you ask me."
And Nyri was convinced he absolutely did not either begin his criminal activity or end it with Ruby. Why would he? There was no telling how many young women he'd assaulted.
But Nyri had placed a cookie here, a little bot or two there that would let her know if anyone was trying to access any of Ruby's information. "So, it's a precaution. I think it's very wise to find out who this monster is. He needs to be caught."
Lonnie became completely still, "I agree. But remember, Ruby doesn't want," she glanced at Stan who was busily concentrating on the screen in front of him, "uh, certain things, uh..."
"Yes, I remember. Don't worry. By the way, the name of Norman Faradeen Smith was entirely bogus like you thought. Criminals can be very cunning, and I suspect he's all that and then some. No telling how many names he's used. A formidable foe, I'm afraid. In fact, I've contacted someone in Spokane to work on this, too. So it shouldn't take too long to find out something."
Gosh, I wonder what that will cost, Lonnie briefly thought, then discounted the worry. She certainly wasn't going to put any price on Ruby's safety.
Nyri heard the pause in Lonnie's voice, "It's included in the retainer so far, so don't worry about it, okay? This creep needs to be taken off the streets, Lon. PDQ."
Lonnie relaxed. If Nyri said she remembered what Ruby wanted, then there was no question. She remembered. And Lonnie certainly had no objection to this monster or monsters being taken down. Ruby had said she thought there was more than one person involved. She just hoped Ruby's confidence wasn't outed in the process. "Gosh, nobody says PDQ anymore, Nyri. You're dating yourself, kiddo."
"Pretty dang quick?" Nyri chuckled, "sure they do. I had a lobbyist say it to me at the last dinner I attended. Course, he was an old timer. Gods, you're making me feel old now." She chuckled, "Anyway, give Ruby my best. How's she doing?"
"Uh, well, I'm a little concerned about Ruby, to tell you the truth. She's gotten progressively more uncomfortable and she seems a little pale to me."
"Oh. Sorry to hear that. Who's her doctor?"
"Doctor Ramirez at the Clinic near the hospital downtown."
"Um, yeah, she's good. Kind of new to town, but a very good choice. Her husband's a surgeon and they have two small children. They came here from the east coast, where they both were held in very high regard at Boston Memorial, by the way. They wanted to be closer to her parents, I understand, and they liked the small town feel and provincial pace here."
"You've heard of her?"
Nyri laughed softly. "Yes. Ruby's in good hands. I've heard really good things about her."
Lonnie wondered why Nyri'd know about an ob/gyn, but then decided Nyri seemed to know about everyone. "Good, I'm glad you've heard about her. Hold on," She glanced at the computer screen Stan was laboring over and touched a spot. "There. See it? See my note? Change that part." He nodded.
Lonnie went back to her conversation, "Are you still riding that old bay horse of yours?" Nyri's new estate was on a large tract of land south of town where she had acres of riding trails by the river.
"Oh, yeah. That sweet old mare's still kicking. Mostly out to pasture now, though. I have several horses I ride, actually. I'm surprised you'd ask. I remember that time I got tossed off her when we were out riding."
"Uh, yeah. You're never gonna let me live that down, are you? What was I, thirteen maybe? Or twelve?"
Nyri laughed. "Well, I remember I was the one thrown, covered with blood and guts, but I had to try and haul your sorry ass back to the house."
"Uh, I know. I'm not too good with that kinda stuff."
"Yet you'd take all kinds of risks yourself. Oh, and you didn't have that reaction at the karate meet that time when the kid got kicked in the face accidentally and blood sprayed everywhere. Remember? You were Johnny on the spot in that case. Jumped right in and got things taken care of before the first aid crew even hit the mats."
"Yeah, well, uh, I just have trouble with people I know, uh, and care about getting hurt. Uh, family and friends."
"Ah, so that's it. It always struck me funny cause you were such a tough customer otherwise. I guess we both were in our own way. You know, we should get together one of these days and just hash over old times. Gods, we were a couple of badasses, weren't we?"
Lonnie laughed out loud, "We sure thought we were. Actually, I'm surprised my folks survived it, tell you the truth. Course, the worst of it they never heard about. They were busy flying back and forth, getting ready to move to the other side of the country at the time and I tried to stay under their radar."
Now it was Nyri's turn to laugh. "I remember. It's amazing we were able to talk that principal into not throwing us out on our ears after we pulled that little stunt on my Harley. Have you ever seen anyone turn that shade of purple since?"
"Deep, deep purple. Poor guy. But we paid the price, if I recall. We sure saw enough of that detention room after that. Course, my folks didn't hear about that, either. Gods, I remember working so hard to keep my grades four point so they wouldn't be suspicious."
"Yeah, me too." Nyri's laughter rang through the line, "Then at graduation we both got all those scholarship offers and the principal was frustrated by that, too. We got more and better ones than his little group of favorites. Poor guy. He couldn't win for losing."
Lonnie laughed with her. "I wonder what ever became of him. I'm sure he was delighted to see us leave. We got off pretty easy, now that I think about it."
"Hey, I paid more than you. My Uncle took my Harley away from me for that whole year, remember? Your folks didn't find out, but Uncle Walter did and was he pissed!"
"Uh huh. You drove a car instead. Big sacrifice."
"It was. The car was my Uncle's and he had things done to it so it wouldn't go fast or anything. It was a geriatric car."
"He had your number," Lonnie laughed. Then she said softly, "He was a good guy."
"Yeah, he was," Nyri replied. "That and more." She paused a moment in solemn memory, then tucked her Uncle's memory in a corner of her mind. It was too raw to examine right now. "Hey, remember how we gave that detention guy a run for his money, too? Badasses Incorporated," Nyri snorted.
"Oh gods, the phone trick," Lonnie laughed. "That was my favorite."
"I ran into him at a political reception last year. All he could talk about was how bad girls were so much worse to deal with than bad boys." She snickered, "He still remembered every little detail of all our "sins". Things I'd forgotten even. He said he just knew the phone deal was ours, but he couldn't figure out how we were making it ring. He said we set the field of education back by years. I think he maybe still has nightmares about us."
"Ah, it's good to be remembered," Lonnie's shoulders jiggled with her laughter. "Oh, gods, those were the days, huh? I'm downright sedate now, though. A mere shadow of my former self."
"Yeah. Hey, maybe this little scamp you have on the way will be pay back, ever think of that?"
"Bite your tongue."
Nyri laughed again, "Listen, I've gotta run, kid. Happy holidays. Give your family my best."
"To you, too. Oh, and to Simone." Lonnie had never cared for Simone but had tried not to let it show. The woman always seemed so "uppity." "And all our thanks. It's greatly appreciated, my friend. Whoops, there goes my cell. See ya." She hung up then fumbled for the cell phone in her pocket.
As Lonnie spoke to Nyri, her mother was carefully driving her rental car to the hospital. Ruby, though two weeks early, was in labor and was trying to reach Lonnie with Lonnie's mother's cell phone.
The condo was stocked. They had diapers and baby clothes, and they were ready to go. Ruby's water had broken and her labor had started.
Once Ruby got through, she told the excited brunette to slow down and park the car normally before meeting them at the hospital. The attendant had been at the hospital doors with a wheelchair when they arrived since Lonnie's mother had called the doctor first. The small blonde had not even finished registering before Lonnie came running up to join them inside.
"Make that Ruby Shaeker," she said breathlessly. "Here's your new health card. Your name change went through." She beamed and Ruby beamed in return until a pain caused her to grimace.
Ruby and Lonnie's mother knew the tall brunette had to have broken all kinds of speed records to have gotten there that quickly. From the large windows in the lobby they could see the jeep jutting out at the entrance to the parking lot from a spot that wasn't really a parking spot.
Before long they had Ruby changed and settled in a room. With every one of Ruby's pains, Lonnie was ready to kill to get her small love some relief. Ruby walked around for a while but then was hooked up to an IV and an external fetal heart monitor was attached.
The first hours went well enough, but as the day wore on and Ruby tried to escape the back pain by turning on her side, the little rascal wiggled away from the monitor. Ruby was asked to stay on her back, which was excruciatingly painful.
It distressed Lonnie so much that she actually hyperventilated and the hospital personnel did have to get the tall brunette to sit and put her head between her legs. They gave her a cold washcloth to put on her forehead. That seemed to do the trick.
However, Lonnie raised so much fuss that the doctor came by and both of them relaxed when the epidural was given, although Ruby still seemed to have some pain.
That concerned the doctor. There was always the possibility of doing a C section if necessary, but Ruby's physical build appeared to be conducive to having children and the small blonde seemed hearty enough. The baby was in the proper position. All the readings seemed to be normal, the baby's heartbeat was strong, so they waited.
After midnight, it was hard to tell who was the most exhausted, Ruby or Lonnie. About two in the morning Lonnie's mother dropped in again and saw that Ruby seemed no further along in her labor. Not much seemed to be happening since the last time she had checked. She decided to go get coffee. Directly after that the nurse reappeared and it was determined that it was time and Ruby was set up to deliver.
Lonnie was covered in hospital green from head to toe and wore a mask over her mouth and nose. Everything considered, it was amazing that they had let her in the birthing room. Every pain Ruby suffered that day, Lonnie seemed to suffer more. The nursing staff was having to keep an eye on her as well as concentrating on Ruby.
"She's crowning," Doctor Ramirez said from her stool. "Go ahead and push, Ruby." She was concerned that Ruby still seemed to have some sharp pains. There was no apparent reason for them.
"Push, baby," Lonnie coached. "You can do it."
"Hold my hand, Lonnie," the small blonde requested. She could feel tremendous pressure inside. Her hair was flattened to her head with perspiration. She had been in labor for hours already and it was dark and quiet outside in these wee hours of the next morning. Ruby pushed with all her might, squeezing Lonnie's hand. Then she began to pant.
"Doctor...." Lonnie implored. Lonnie was too tired to be frantic with worry as she'd first been. She never had liked hospitals much anyway. And when Ruby had talked to her about "if anything happens to me," it had scared the wits out of her.
"You're doing great, Ruby," the doctor encouraged. " As soon as you're ready, give another good push." Some other nurses moved into the room and it became quite crowded.
"Okay, love," Lonnie whispered. She wiped the blonde's brow with the rag she'd been provided. "The doctor wants you to push again. Give it a go, honey."
Ruby gripped the bigger hand, grunted and pushed again, squeezing Lonnie's hand as hard as she could, which was plenty hard. Lonnie moaned softly.
"Good, Ruby!" the doctor called. "As soon as you're ready, once more."
"Oh, baby, you're doing great! Keep up the good work, love! She's almost born! It's almost over!" Lonnie kept her grip but moved a little closer to where the birth was occurring so she could see better.
Ruby took a deep breath and gave it her all. The baby seemed to slide out after that. She was red and looked like she was covered with slimy white dissolved upset stomach tablets. Lonnie took a good look, turned pale and slowly slid crashing to the floor.
The regular nurse rushed to her side, quickly reviving her. "Wha...happened?" she asked as she was helped up.
"You've just seen the miracle of birth," the doctor said without looking up, her concentration staying with Ruby.
The nurse handed a shaky Lonnie the scissors to cut the clamped cord, a nurse by each elbow now. The brunette's blue eyes grew so wide that even Ruby had to chuckle. With shaking hands Lonnie made the cut.
They heard the baby's cry as the neonatologists began their instant check and clean up of the small girl. It sounded like she had healthy lungs. Seven pounds, three ounces. A good size for being early.
Lonnie put her face next to Ruby's, pulled down her mask and gently kissed the blonde. "Oh, sweet love. You did it! You have a beautiful baby girl!" She pulled back to smile at the exhausted blonde.
Suddenly Ruby yanked the front of Lonnie's shirt and pulled her face back down within inches of her own, a mighty scowl crossing her face.
"Are you leaving me?" she demanded in a forced whisper. Lonnie barely recognized Ruby's voice or her actions. There was fire in the small blonde's tired eyes and her jaw was set.
"N..no, honey," Lonnie tried to pull back in amazement but was firmly held in the iron grip of the small woman. "Why would you think that?"
"What happened to the 'our' baby and the "we're in this together" that you've been telling me about? Did you change your mind?"
Lonnie's eyes softened and she suppressed a laugh, "Not at all, my love."
"Don't 'not at all my love' me, I'm serious."
It was obvious that Ruby had gotten a second wind physically but had met her psychological limit. The nurse quickly took Ruby's thumb print and index finger print before moving away. Lonnie glanced over to see them taking the baby's footprint.
Lonnie grinned, "You did all the work, honey. That's all I wanted to say. She's our daughter, if you'll let me have the honor."
"It's time to push again, Ruby," the doctor interrupted, a worried look on her face. The placenta needed to be expelled. Ruby grit her teeth and pushed. Lonnie held her hand.
"Don't look, Lonnie," the nearby nurse chuckled, "we don't want to clear a spot for you on the floor again. Usually it's only burly fathers that do that."
Lonnie did not look. She had her eyes shut, thanking the powers that be for protecting her beloved Ruby and their new baby daughter. Unfortunately her optimism had been premature.
They placed the baby on Ruby's chest but the nurse stayed with her. Both new mothers were almost afraid to touch her.
"Our beautiful baby girl," Lonnie breathed.
"Yes, she is," Ruby whispered, her green eyes adoring her new born child. "Welcome to the world, Elizabeth Ruby Shaeker." She ran her hand gently over the baby's head, "We're going to love you so darn much!"
"Yes, we are," Lonnie ran a finger gently in a circle on the baby's chest. The infant wasn't crying now but her tiny little arms and tiny little legs were all flailing in the air. She was a miracle.
The doctor gave some serious instructions to the nurses and suddenly they were scurrying around. "We need to take her," the nurse who'd stayed at their elbow said. She took the baby and she and another of the nurses left the room.
"You sleep now, my precious lady," Lonnie's eyes flicked to where the baby had been moved out. Everyone seemed to be moving around quickly. What was going on?
"You going bragging?" Ruby asked with a half smile, her eyes beginning to close.
"You bet! To the top of my lungs," Lonnie grinned. "Mom's gonna be so sorry she missed this. You'll probably hear her when I tell her the baby's name. She's gonna be so proud!"
Ruby glanced up at the large clock on the wall. "It's after two in the morning, hon. Better wait to do your calling." A quick thought of calling her own family flashed through her mind, and maybe just letting her brother know. But she firmly placed it out of her thoughts. That would never happen. The more she kept them out of her life, the better for her baby girl. "I feel warm..."
The doctor looked up, "We have a problem here." Lonnie looked over and was horrified at the amount of blood she saw. Her heart nearly stopped. She felt faint. "We need to get you into surgery right away, Ruby. I need your permission," Dr. Ramirez said. "We've got a problem, uh, a repair that needs immediate attention."
"All right, doctor," Ruby said softly. "I wondered."
Lonnie paled even more. "What kind of repair?" she asked, her worried look centered on the doctor. "What's going on?" She fought off her lightheadedness. She took deep breaths. Ruby needed her.
"Honey?" Ruby said.
Lonnie worriedly took Ruby's hand, "I love you," she said earnestly looking into half-closed green eyes. "Please don't leave me, Ruby."
"It's all right, honey," Ruby murmured. "Watch over our baby. If anything happens, tell her I loved her so much. You tell her."
"No, you tell her yourself. Don't leave me, Ruby." Her eyes flooded with tears, "Please, baby."
"Let us get her into the operating theater and I'll explain," the doctor said. Things happened ultra quickly now. It was as though they had already started, which they had.
The doctor grabbed Lonnie's elbow and moved her quickly out of the room as Ruby was wheeled away. "Ruby has serious problems. Dr. Masrow and I need to find out what they are and make corrections immediately so if you have no other questions, you can wait in here..."
"Will she be all right?" Lonnie asked in a whisper.
"She's young. That's a plus. We'll know more when we get in there."
Oh, dear God! "And the baby?"
"At this point the baby looks good. They're taking her to the NICU, as a precaution." She spoke rapidly, "She's breathing on her own, her Apgar scores are good and her weight is up there. It's very optimistic."
Lonnie knew that this hospital had one of the finest neonatal units in the area. If anyone could do right by their daughter, this hospital could.
"Thank you, doctor."
The doctor disappeared behind the door. Lonnie sank onto the padded seat of the bench in the small waiting room where she'd been led. She was the only one there. She sucked in a deep breath and stared into space. Tears slowly streaked down her cheeks. "Please let her be all right, please. Don't leave me, Ruby. Honey, we need you, both of us. Please, baby. Don't leave us. I just found you. Don't leave."
She shut her eyes, pawed at her tears and vaguely wondered where her mother was. Just seeing her mother might help ground her. She felt so terrified. But she stayed where she was, afraid to leave. She shut her eyes and began to pray in earnest.
Every few minutes she'd glance at the clock, but time passed very slowly.
After fifteen minutes the door opened and her mother walked in, "I've
been looking for you. What's happened?"
"It's Ruby. They had to take her into surgery."
"Repairs?" she rolled the word over her tongue as though it was completely unknown to her. Her jaw tightened almost imperceptibly. They would get through this. This was a family trial. They would get through this. "And the baby?"
"They took her to the NICU. The doctor said as a precaution."
"Oh, my," Her mother sat beside her and looked up at her worried face. "I'm sure Ruby'll be fine, dear." She worriedly twisted her handkerchief in her hands.
Strange how even as old as Lonnie was, a rogue thought persisted in the back of her mind that her parents were somehow immortal and all powerful. Seeing that her mother was unable to change their situation dispensed that belief instantly. Yet something about being with family and seeing her mother's worry and angst helped Lonnie bear her own. "I hope so," she breathed.
Her mother sat beside her for a while. They both waited. After a half hour or so her mother's hand came onto her arm. "It will probably be a while. I'll go get us some coffee. I saw a machine. I'll be right back."
"Check on the baby?" Lonnie suggested.
"Yes," her mother replied. "I will, dear," Lonnie watched her leave. It was easier sharing the torment of waiting, but nothing could make it easy.
It was probably the longest time Lonnie had ever spent in her life. It felt as though she hadn't taken a breath at all during that time. Finally she saw the door start to open and flew to her feet. The doctor stepped into the room, her scrubs stained from the surgery. Her face was unreadable.
"How is she?" Terror gripped Lonnie's throat so hard it was hard speaking. "Tell me she's all right!" She chewed her lip and her hands were shaking.
Doctor Ramirez spoke softly, "Here, sit down Lonnie."
"No, no, tell me how she is."
"She's in recovery. Sit. It was very serious. We easily could have lost her. It's a good thing we got in there when we did."
The doctor sat on the bench and waited for Lonnie to sit as well. "We weren't sure we weren't going to have to end up doing a hysterectomy. That was touch and go for a while. But fortune was smiling on Ruby today. The very first thing we tried worked. A birth can take its own toll on a woman, but she had hidden scar tissue apparently from a prior injury that was creating the problem. Do you know anything about that?"
"I think so." Lonnie hesitated only a minute. Her promise to Ruby surely didn't include not telling the doctor. "Ruby doesn't want it known, but she was brutally raped. She didn't ever see a doctor until she was well into her pregnancy."
"Ahh." The doctor shook her head. "We'll need to keep a close eye on her until it heals completely. But as it stands, she's a very lucky woman. She should recover fully and be able to have other children if she wishes. In fact, other pregnancies should be easier for her, now that this problem has been corrected."
"Can I see her?"
"Give her a little time. Why don't you go get a cup of coffee. You can see the baby through the special window in the neonatal intensive care unit. You've put in quite a night."
"Yes. You, too. It's one Ruby and I'll remember forever. Thank you. Thank you for saving her life."
Lonnie headed from the room in a daze. Ruby was in recovery. She was going to be all right. Lonnie leaned against the hallway wall and let out a heavy sigh of relief. Exhaustion flowed over her like a wave. She could easily have slid to the floor, but she kept herself from doing that. Thank you, thank you, thank you, she whispered to the powers that be, shutting her eyes for a minute. Thank you for saving Ruby, my beloved Ruby.
She opened her eyes and saw her mother heading back, two cups of coffee in her hands. She saw Lonnie and froze in place. "What's happened?" she asked. Fear danced in her eyes and its taste burned in her throat.
Lonnie pushed off the wall and smiled. "She's out of surgery and in recovery. She's going to be okay."
Her mother's eyes shut and her shoulders dropped. "Thank you, dear heavens," she whispered.
"Yeah," Lonnie said softly. "How was the baby?"
Her mother handed her the cup of coffee. "She was beautiful. Uh, actually I couldn't see her too well. She was furthest from the window and I hurried to get back," Her mouth opened to say how it worried her to see the tiny diapered girl hooked up to the machines. She caught herself in time. Lonnie did not need any further worries this night. "Let's sit and drink this and we can go get a better look at her. She seemed to be a good healthy size."
"Yes." Lonnie sat on the nearest bench and raised the cup to her mouth. It was hot. She couldn't have sworn that it was coffee. She sighed heavily and took another swallow.
"You've had a stressful evening," her mother looked away then mused softly, "Friday's child is loving and giving."
"It is Friday, isn't it?" Lonnie muttered. It seemed like years ago when she had left work to head to the hospital.
"Yes, the thirteenth, I'm afraid and pouring down rain."
Just like when we met, Lonnie mused, lifting her face to gaze out the far window. "I like the rain and I've always found the thirteenth to be a lucky day. Now that they're both doing all right, I guess it is." She took a small sip, not tasting it really. "What day was I born on?"
"Let's see. You were born on a Saturday. Saturday's child works hard for a living. I'd say that's true."
"I guess," Lonnie shut her eyes and for the first time in a long while she felt herself relax some.
The baby was doing well and Ruby was in recovery. She took another drink, opened her eyes and noticed that her mother was finished with hers. Had she taken that long between sips of her own? She set her half-filled cup aside. "Let's go see the baby," she said.
They rose to leave. "Ruby's had such a hard time of it, hasn't she, poor dear, confined to bed and all, so uncomfortable and now this?" Her mother chatted as they walked down the silent hall.
"Yeah," Lonnie replied. Then her thoughts went to the rapist or rapists and her jaw set. She'd like to run into them, preferably in a dark alley in the dead of night. She'd do some surgery of her own, Loretta Bobbit style. Her thoughts were murderous but her mother's chatter brought her back.
"Did they say how long the baby would have to be in the NICU?"
"Uh, no. The doctor said only as a precaution. I don't know what that means, exactly."
Lonnie rubbed a hand over her face. It was heading towards four in the morning. Her mother led them down to the nursery. They stopped by the window and Lonnie looked around. "Where is she?" Now Lonnie nearly panicked. What had happened to their baby girl? Had something gone wrong?
"Debra," Lonnie's mother tapped on the window. "I missed you when I was here a bit ago. You were all so busy I didn't want to bother you then. We're looking for the Shaeker baby. Do you know where she is?"
The nurse walked to the window with a smile. "They just moved her to the step down nursery. It's specialized but not intensive care." She pointed. "Down that way."
"Thanks, Debra." They both looked then headed where the nurse had pointed. "That's good news," her mother muttered.
When they got there Lonnie scoured the babies with her eyes. "There she is Mom..." She stood upright and pointed while a large smile cascaded over her face. Their daughter. Ruby and hers.
Her mother took a good look at the baby this time. She was indeed a miracle child. The older woman'd been so distracted by the monitors and machinery around the baby before she hadn't really noticed what a wonder she was.
"Elizabeth Ruby Shaeker," Lonnie said. She heard her mother gasp.
"Elizabeth? She's named Elizabeth? After me?"
Her mother continued, "Ohhhh! Let's call your father!"
"I'd use my cell phone, but they don't let you use them in the hospital. Something about setting off pacemakers or machines or something like that, I think. I don't know if that's true of analog or..." Lonnie stopped and gazed at the baby. The tiny infant was beautiful. Most babies weren't really that good looking, she decided. But theirs definitely was.
She had the look of Ruby. Blonde hair but with blue eyes. Lonnie could already see this little child winning any heart she desired with no more than an impish grin. You and your Momma, sweetheart. Your Momma's a wonderful lady. She's out of surgery, baby girl. Thank heavens, she's going to be okay, and we love you so much. All of us.
"Isn't she the most beautiful child you've ever seen, Mom?" Lonnie's voice echoed through the ultra-quiet halls.
"Oh," Lonnie's mother cried standing outside the window. She brought out her cloth handkerchief and dabbed her eyes. "Look at her! She is so precious." She dabbed her eyes again and sniffed, "Oh, Robert, I wish you were here to see her!" She turned to her daughter, "Did you get a picture?"
"Uh, no. Everything happened so fast..."
"Well, get one now. Turn the flash off."
Lonnie rustled around in her pockets for the camera. Her mother had been watching her purse for her, but she'd put the small camera in one of her pockets to use when the baby was born but had forgotten all about it. Lonnie dug it out and snapped a picture. She wished the baby was a little closer to the window, though.
"Okay Mom, we can go call Daddy now."
"I don't know if I can move away from the window." She sighed softly, "Elizabeth Ruby Shaeker." Her wide smile turned to her daughter, "Course, she's named after you, too."
Lonnie smiled in return.
Her mother's eyes went back to her granddaughter, "Lonnie, your baby girl is beautiful."
Lonnie looked at the tiny infant again, now bundled in a blanket with a little knit cap on her head. "She is, isn't she?" She turned her concerned face to her mother. "I want to adopt her, Mom...legally. So there's never any question. If I can. If it's allowed."
Her mother cast a deliberate look her youngest daughter's way. "What does Ruby say?"
"She wants that, too. We've talked about it. She said we'll just have to find a way to do it. Uh, later, when we're out of debt and able to save. Course, first we have to check and see what's possible."
Lonnie had gone to the credit union and gotten the loan to cover all their debts, putting the car up as collateral like they'd discussed. Now they were paying far less interest. It would still take years to pay off, but the payments were made low enough to be workable. And they could make bigger payments as they were able.
"Ruby said you had a solid financial plan," her mother said, "Why didn't you say you had her hospital bill to pay? Heavens! That makes a difference. Of course, your father says it's none of our business."
It isn't, was on the tip of Lonnie's tongue, but she didn't express it. Instead she nodded in agreement with her mother. Her mother's brow knitted as she looked at the baby, "With you two trying to live on one salary, I don't know how...."
"I have bills left from when I was with Cheryl," Lonnie blurted. It wasn't her parents' business, but she wasn't going to try and pretend that their debts had been Ruby's.
"I'm sure." Her mother took a deep breath, "Well, your father and I will help you in any way we can, Lonnie. You can count on us."
That's always been true, hasn't it? Lonnie thought with sudden clarity. I've never thought about it before, really. Just taken it for granted. I want our daughter to get that kind of succor from Ruby and me. "Thanks for the support, Mom. We really appreciate it." She looked at their tiny daughter. She was so perfect. She sighed, "I've heard it's expensive. But we'll do whatever it takes."
Her mother glanced over and saw the determination and resolution in the set of her daughter's jaw.
"We'll help you, dear. After all, you didn't use the last two years of your college funds that we'd saved for you. You didn't even use all that much of the first two years since you had such a good scholarship. So, if you want to use those funds toward adoption, we'd be very happy with that. We still have them in your account. After all, we saved it for you."
Lonnie stared at her mother. "You'd be willing to do that?" Even after you've seen the debt I acquired with Cheryl?
"Of course we'd be willing. I personally can't think of any better use of your college fund, if you're not going to go back to school."
"I'm not. Oh, Mom, thank you," Lonnie replied. Her parents would help them afford whatever they were allowed to do. They'd research it and maybe even go so far as to move across the river to Washington if their adoption laws were more amenable. She could still work in Oregon, if it came to that. Whatever it took.
A new daughter. Lonnie sighed. They were mothers, she and Ruby. Well, Ruby had done the work, but she was going to love them both forever! She was a parent. And Ruby was going to be all right. That had near scared her to death. She couldn't remember being frightened like that before ...ever.
Lonnie's mother tapped on the window and the nurse on duty turned around. "Vicky, hi!" her mother said through the window. "Can you move that little one closer? That beautiful one's ours!"
"This one?" The nurse asked, smiling back. She moved things out of the way as much as she could so they had a better view. The infant had a fist at her mouth.
"She's beautiful, Liz," the nurse said, running a finger across the baby's hair sticking out of her cap. "And she's named after you! Congratulations!"
"I know!" Lonnie's mother said proudly. "I'm just the proudest Grandma! How is she doing?"
"We just got her. From what I can see she's doing really well."
Lonnie snapped a couple more pictures. "Can I leave you here a minute, Mom? I want to go check on Ruby."
"Certainly, dear. I'll be just fine here."
Lonnie kissed two fingertips and gently laid them on the window, drawing a smile from the nurse.
"Come around to the side door, Liz. I'll get you a gown and mask. You can rock her if you'd like," Vicky said to Lonnie's mother.
"Aaaah," Lonnie's mother squealed then called to Lonnie, "Do you want to hold her first, Lonnie?"
Lonnie turned back, "Uh," now she was torn. Her eyes went to the small infant. But she'd already touched the baby in the delivery room. "I already touched her, Mom," Lonnie smiled. "I really want to check on Ruby right now."
"All right, dear," her mother all but ran around to the side door.
Lonnie hurried down to Ruby's room and was pleased to see she was there. She was sound asleep, her face to the wall. Lonnie pulled up a chair and lifted the blonde's free hand into her own, kissing it gently. "You get well, my sweet love." Soft blue eyes took in the form before her.
Savoring the lowering and lift of Ruby's breathing, she said a short prayer of thanks. She felt the heavy weight that had settled around her heart begin to lift. Ruby. Beloved Ruby. Just found in her life and nearly lost. But now alive. And going to be well. 'If anything happens to me,' she'd said. "Gods, Ruby, you scared the wits out of me, baby," she whispered. "I thought you'd had a horrible premonition."
"Mmmm," she heard Ruby hum in her sleep. But she knew Ruby wasn't trying to speak. She had a habit of humming in her sleep.
Lonnie heard a noise and turned to see the doctor at the door. She had changed into clean scrubs.
"How is she?" Lonnie stage whispered.
"Everything's looking good at this point," the doctor replied softly. She walked over and checked the drip on the IV. "She needs to sleep now. But I'd say they're both doing better than we have any right to expect. It could easily have been otherwise."
"Oh, gods! But she's all right now?" Huge inquisitive blue eyes gazed up at the doctor.
The doctor blinked, taken aback by how blue this woman's eyes were. And how much fear she allowed to be shown in them. Or was it that the tall brunette was just too tired to hide it? In an instant the trepidity was muted and Lonnie's face became unreadable. The doctor nodded. "Yes. I'm quite sure we got everything repaired."
Lonnie let out a breath, "Good." Her eyes went to Ruby before they rose again to the doctor. "Mom and I were just down there. They moved the baby down the hall into what they called the step down nursery."
"Yes, I know. I was just on my way there, in fact. Next thing you know your little girl will be in the regular nursery and ready to be released to go home." She cleared her throat and her words became more serious, "To be safe we won't let Ruby nurse her for a day or so. She'll have to pump the milk." She smiled, "But don't worry, we'll take good care of them both."
"Oh, uh, all right." Lonnie gazed at the small blonde in the bed. She wondered if the doctor had any idea how much the thought of taking the tiny girl home terrified her and thrilled her at the same time. She glanced up to watch the doctor walk to the door, "Thank you, doctor. Can I stay with Ruby a while?"
She turned back, "Yes, go ahead. Just remember she needs to sleep. I'm sure she'll appreciate seeing you more later when she's awake. She probably won't even remember you've been here."
"That's all right," Lonnie ran a thumb across the smaller hand. It fit so perfectly in her own two. "I won't stay long. I just need to make sure she's okay."
"I understand." The doctor left and Lonnie's gaze swept back to Ruby. She looked so peaceful. Pale. Young. But peaceful.
Lonnie kissed the small woman's hand again.
The mass of curling blonde locks feathered across the pillow moved as Ruby's face turned toward Lonnie. Lonnie felt a movement from the hand she was holding then saw blond lashes fluttering open. Groggy green eyes searched her out. Their eyes locked and a roomful of words passed between them without so much as a sound.
When she spoke aloud, her words were so soft Lonnie had to lower her face to hear them. "We've never been strangers," Ruby mused softly, green eyes filled with love melting into Lonnie's blue.
"No, we haven't. Not even when we met," Lonnie breathed. She kissed the hand again. She decided it was the drugs from the surgery bringing such thoughts to the surface.
"I miss the baby," Ruby's hand jerked and distress swept across her face.
Lonnie stroked her hand. "It's all right, honey. She's in the nursery. She's alive and beautiful. Doctor Ramirez said she's going to be just fine."
The distress left Ruby's features. Her eyelids were heavy. "Lonnie?" She was struggling to keep her eyes open.
"Yes, my love. I'm here." The brunette's face was almost on the pillow she had leaned so close.
"My family..." Ruby's eyes shut, "I was always a stranger."
"You're a Shaeker, now," Lonnie softly breathed the words into her ear, "Ruby Shaeker." Ruby did not reply. Her eyes stayed closed. "We'll never be strangers, honey. And we have a beautiful baby girl. Elizabeth Ruby Shaeker. And she'll never feel like a stranger, either. We'll see to it."
She wasn't sure Ruby had heard. The small blonde had drifted back to sleep, the ebb and flow of her breathing even and steady. Lonnie leaned forward and kissed her forehead.
Ruby's voice surprised her, "What did Dad say?" She didn't open her eyes and Lonnie wondered if she was thinking of her own father or Lonnie's, only she didn't remember Ruby ever calling her own father "Dad".
"Uh, Daddy? About the baby, you mean?"
"Uh, we haven't phoned him yet. I wanted to make sure you were all right first."
There was silence from Ruby save the steady rise and fall of her chest. Lonnie watched, fascinated. She was going to make it. Ruby. Her beloved Ruby.
"I'll tell him, sweetheart," she said quietly. There was no reply. Lonnie sat for a good five minutes just watching. Ruby was sound asleep.
Lonnie rose slowly and placed Ruby's hand on the covers. She brushed her lips softly across Ruby's forehead. "See you later, honey. Sleep well."
She walked to the door, and glanced back. She couldn't help wondering what Ruby would have done on her own or what kind of care she'd have gotten if they'd never met. It might have been good, but it might not have been good at all.
It made her shudder to consider it. Would their precious little girl have arrived a lot earlier? And would they even have been able to save her if she had? Would they have been able to save Ruby? "It's not right! The way our health system is, you'd think we were some durned third world nation," Lonnie grumbled just under her breath as she headed back to the nursery. She saw her mother handing the little one back to the nurse. The doctor was there.Lonnie's mother peeled off the gown and mask as she got to the door and put them in the bin. "Be sure and let us know what you want done, Doctor Ramirez, and I'll make sure the girls follow your instructions to a T." Then she gave a little wave as she pulled the door open, "Keep an eye on my granddaughter, Vicky. We'll be back," she trilled.
"How was Ruby?" her mother asked as soon as she stepped out. Lonnie pulled her eyes from their new little arrival and headed the same direction her mother was busily walking, taking the chance to glance back several times.
"She was still pretty sleepy but she looked good. She wondered what Daddy thought of our new baby girl. Uh, how did you know that nurse?" she asked as they finally moved to the bank of phones down the hall. Come to think of it, her mother had known the nurse in the NICU as well.
"I've been here all day, dear," her mother smiled. She moved to one of the phones and removed the receiver to call her husband. "I know all the nurses."
"Of course," Lonnie muttered glancing back towards the nursery window. She dug for some change. "I'm calling everybody I know..." She dug for her small, black phone book, "now that I know everything's okay."
"Wait till I get off the phone with your father, dear. I want to talk to them, too! We'll start with the back east calls first. It's later there."
The early morning phone calls were about to begin. Shaeker family and friends would all know that this little child, Elizabeth Ruby Shaeker, had joined the world. They'd also know her mother, Ruby, was now doing well, and her parents, Ruby and Lonnie, and grandparents, Elizabeth and Robert Shaeker, were as proud as they could possibly be.
A message from Hawaii was on the machine when Lonnie and her mother finally got home to shower, catch a minute's rest, and change clothes before heading back to the hospital. It was from Chase. "Hey, I don't know who Nyri knew, but it was somebody mighty important, I can tell you that. Crimony, Ruby's name change has gone through ALREADY. Can you believe that?" She explained how she had gotten a call from her office. "So, Aloha all you Shaekers back there," Chase teased, "the weather here is gorgeous. We're sitting on the beach in our bikinis watching the waves roll in and getting a fabulous tan. Bet you can't top that."
"Oh, yes we can," Lonnie grinned and picked up the phone. "What hotel did she say they were staying at?"
Their trips to the hospital were frequent. Ruby had only a vague, dreamlike recollection of Lonnie having been there earlier, but she was pleased with Lonnie's father's joy at the arrival of the tiny girl. Her room was filled with congratulatory gas-filled balloons on the ceiling that he had sent, their strings all attached to a tiny pink bear floating in the air. Lonnie's sister had sent some balloons, too.
Lonnie had taken a bouquet of flowers she had purchased in the gift shop in the lobby and her mother brought some quickly baked cinnamon rolls. It all helped lighten Ruby's mood, which was subdued. She was unable to nurse the baby right away. She was also unable to move around as freely as she'd like because she was recovering from surgery. But she had been down to the nursery in a wheelchair and had held the little girl, and that helped.
Her room had a view of Mt. Hood from her window, now visible in the sudden, sunlight streaked cloud break that had occurred. The small blonde gazed moodily off at the mountain and Lonnie sat in the chair beside her while her mother was at the nursery checking on the baby. Lonnie was waiting until her mother came back to go back to work so Ruby wouldn't feel alone.
"I climbed it, you know," Lonnie said softly, her own eyes going to the mountain. "In high school. Nyri and I climbed it. With a group of high school kids. I was in great shape in those days."
"You were a teenager? Was it hard?" Ruby asked, surprised.
"Hard enough. I think it's the second most often climbed mountain in the world, though. I mean, it's not a hike exactly. There's more to it than that. You need to be trained for it. It seems like every year people have lost their lives trying to climb it. So it's not a turkey shoot by any means. But a number of people do it."
"I'd like to." Ruby stared out at the snow-topped crest.
"Would you?" Lonnie inquired.
"Yes." Ruby gazed seriously at the peak. "I'd like to do something to lose this feeling." She looked back at Lonnie, "Sometimes I feel like I'm such a victim...like I'm helpless, sort of. I want to lose that. I want to do something most other people haven't done. Just to prove to myself..." She stared back out at the tall peak regally lording itself over the horizon.
"Why don't we, then?"
Ruby's face whipped back. "Really?"
"Sure. We can join one of the mountain climbing groups. They have great training classes and when it's time, you go up with a group of people who know what they're doing. We just have to get ourselves in shape. Uh, and find a baby-sitter for little Beth. It takes about a day. But we have six months or more to get ready."
One side of Ruby's lips winged up as she gazed out the window. "Yes. I'd really like to do that."
"So it shall be, then," Lonnie assured, "Your wish, madame, is my command."
"Well, I like the sounds of that," Ruby smiled for the first time in a long while. "Remember that when our little girl cries in the middle of the night and needs to be changed."
Lonnie chuckled then noticed how Ruby's face had become solemn again as the blonde stared at the mountain. So much had happened so quickly. And her mother had told Lonnie that Ruby might feel the blues for a while. That was pretty normal.
"You know, you might want to think about going back to school, now that the baby's born and everything. When we can afford it, that is."
Green eyes centered on Lonnie. "Where?"
"Oh, heck, there's Portland State. They have some good degree offerings and the campus is right downtown. It's a great school. And I think they have both day and night classes. You could probably take them a few at a time. Then there's Portland State University. It's in the north part of town. It's really good, too. And that's just two of the places. There's others."
Lonnie could almost see the wheels turning behind the green eyes now focused on her. "I'd really like to do that," Ruby said very softly. It was something to hang her sanity on.
Ruby was surprised at her need for that. She was surprised at how down she had felt since the birth. It wasn't like her. Before the "event," the rape, she had always been pretty chipper and cheery. Even during the pregnancy she had felt "up" much of the time. She wondered if what she was feeling now was normal.
"I don't know why you couldn't, uh, once we get on our feet." Lonnie looked up to see her mother walking in the door. "Okay, Mom's here. I've gotta get to work. I'll see you later, babe. Have a good day."
"I love you." It was said more intimately than Lonnie expected, and a gorgeous smile framed the tall beauty's face in return. Ruby's spirits were definitely higher than they had been.
Ruby watched the lean, muscled, shapely build of the tall woman as she left in her long-legged, jaunty stroll, her silky raven hair streaming down past the shoulders of her understated but elegant blue tailored shirt. She ran a hand through her own blonde hair and looked at the roomful of balloons. Gods, she had the very best of any world, a gorgeous partner, a beautiful baby girl and a wonderful family. Why had she felt so down?
She glanced at the mountain. They were going to climb Mt. Hood. She was going to climb a mountain. She was going to quit feeling like a victim. And she was going to go back to school...one of these days. She could resurrect her prior dream. Lonnie had given her something she didn't even know she'd needed...hope.
She placed a smile on her face, "Hi, Mom," she greeted her mother-in-law. "Did you get to rock her again?"
It was a big relief when the baby was moved from the step-down nursery to the regular nursery Saturday morning. The doctor surprised Ruby by leaving instructions for her to get up and walk around a little bit that morning. It was uncomfortable, and she felt like she was ninety years old as she walked, but Ruby did it.
Saturday afternoon Lonnie and her mother walked into Ruby's room in time to see her finish breast feeding the small infant. Ruby was a little embarrassed at showing herself so publicly. She covered herself quickly. She burped the baby then held her out to Lonnie.
Blue eyes became huge as she took the little wrapped child into her arms. As though she were holding the finest China, Lonnie carefully lowered herself into the chair by Ruby's bed and brought the infant to her chest.
All eyes were on the baby as she made all kinds of faces, making the adults chuckle. Lonnie cooed and talked to her until the tiny face seemed to follow her words.
"She had a diaper change before she ate," Ruby said, "but I've got a hunch she's going to need another soon."
The baby began to fuss. Lonnie put out her free hand and the baby grabbed a finger. Lonnie continued softly speaking to the small infant. It was fascinating being in the presence of a baby. Lonnie decided she could spend hours just admiring the little miracle.
Ruby and her mother began to discuss how Ruby was feeling. In the background Lonnie began a soft lullaby. Her voice was so pure and lovely that both women quit talking and looked over at the tall brunette whose complete attention was on singing to her new daughter. The child had quit fussing and her eyes were beginning to shut.
As the tune finished and Lonnie's singing faded off, large adult blue eyes looked up at Ruby. Lonnie wrinkled her nose. "Honey," she whispered, "I think she dropped a curried yoghurt stink bomb over here."
"That's sorta what it smells like."
Ruby and Lonnie's mother began to laugh. "You'll have to do something about that, Mumsy," Ruby replied. "Let me hand you a diaper." The joys and trials of being a parent had begun.
Lonnie and her mother took their own cars as they traveled to and from the hospital, mostly because Lonnie had to get to work in between times in order to get out her rush order. Benny turned out to be a sterling character in the tall brunette's eyes since he set aside his own rush order to help her get hers processed first. And he fended off the sales staff for her orders. He owed her one, he told her.
Much as he wanted to, Benny could not give her the whole time off. It was the wrong time of year and there was no one in their shop good enough to replace her. But he moved people around as best he could to free her up whenever possible.
Still, by the time Lonnie had been to the hospital then to work and then back to the hospital, then home for dinner and bed, she was ready to drop. She barely got her dinner eaten before her eyes closed. Several times her mother woke her and sent her to bed. Had Lonnie been less tired, she'd have found the bed lonely. But as it was, she slept like a rock every night until Ruby and the baby were finally released to come home on Wednesday morning.
Because of her surgery, Ruby was less able to get around as easily as she'd have liked. Lonnie was at work when her mother-in-law picked them up at the hospital.
Once they got home, Ruby crawled into bed with the baby in the bassinet beside her and the rain pounding on the windows. She truthfully didn't know how she'd have managed without the older woman being there. Her mother-in-law did almost all the cooking and housework while she recovered. But Ruby was anxious to take over as many tasks as she could handle.
It was amazing how effortlessly Ruby and Lonnie's mother worked together, laughing, hugging each other, chatting, fussing over the baby. It was as though they'd spent a lifetime together as mother and daughter. Ruby called her "Mom" and it pleased the older woman tremendously. They even discussed fashion and makeup, and Ruby found it all a salve to her own loss of family.
Every free minute the small blonde studied her Oregon driver's guide and tended the baby with her mother-in-law's help, while Mrs. Shaeker made a greater point of getting things around the house caught up. She would have to leave soon.
Much as she loved having the others around, Ruby took great joy in rocking her young infant in the living room in the quiet of the afternoon when Lonnie was at work and the older woman was out doing the laundry or getting groceries. Ruby turned the tree lights on and had Christmas music playing softly in the background. This is bonding, Bethy darling, she thought, gazing at her precious little daughter. She softly rocked and cooed to the child. The baby cooed back at her.
Little Beth had turned out to be a mostly quiet, happy infant. She cried at night for her feedings every three hours or so, but for the most part she did not seem to suffer from colic or cry unnecessarily. Lonnie's mother said she was much like Lonnie in that regard. She had been a happy baby, too.
Each day was easier for Ruby recovering from surgery. After her first day spent mostly in bed, she had taken to getting fully dressed each day. She did not have the right clothes for easy breast feeding, and it was awkward doing so, but once she and the baby were set, it was soothing and those times, at least, she felt totally at peace.
Nights had not changed in intimacy from before. Lonnie made a point of not rushing Ruby, who was trying to recover from surgery and childbirth. In some ways it was different because the baby took so much of their time throughout the night. They would just get settled, it seemed, when Ruby would need to be up again for a feeding. Lonnie found herself learning to sleep through such times, although she did try to change the infant and take her out to rock her first thing in the morning so Ruby could get a little more sleep.
Ruby was frustrated by the weight she'd put on and wanted desperately to drop the pounds as quickly as she could. But the doctor had warned her to go slowly and follow her instructions to protect the baby's breast milk. She could diet, of course, but only in moderation. And exercising was to be in moderation, too.
So Ruby left the baby in her mother-in-law's care for a few minutes one morning after Lonnie had left and rode down to the bottom floor to check out the condo's exercise room and swimming pool. They were both impressive, and she noted that after the rush before work, there was a period of time when they were not used all that much, if at all.
Ruby was in no position to exercise yet, but once she'd recovered, she decided she could take the baby down in her car carrier while she used the equipment. After all, she needed to lose weight and she needed to get ready to climb a mountain. Her mother in law had found the mountain climbing idea scandalous, and that made it even more enticing in Ruby's eyes. It was something she decided she HAD to do for herself more than anything else.
By Saturday Ruby determined that she could get around well enough, so they made Lonnie stay home with the baby while Mrs. Shaeker took Ruby to the motor vehicle department first thing in the morning. The older woman had her book but mostly talked with people in the waiting room while Ruby went to take her driver's test in the drizzle. It seemed to take forever, but at last Ruby came back with a wide smile. She had passed and she held her new license. Ruby Shaeker.
A short stop in a neighboring store and Ruby proudly drove them home in time to feed the fussing infant. Lonnie hurried to work where she stayed very late that night getting out both her and Benny's last rush orders. She gave a huge sigh of relief. Finally they'd have weekends off again.
Christmas was rapidly approaching and Lonnie's mother began to pack to return home. Lonnie and Ruby discussed their budget and what they'd get her parents. Lonnie explained that she always sent money to her brother for them. Her sister did, too. Bud bought professional basketball season tickets for them every year. They were in midsection with good seats, and her folks loved them.
"They like basketball?"
"Oh, yeah, they're great fans. They used to be Blazer fans when they lived here. You should see their outfits now. They both wear 76er jackets and hats and carry pennants that they wave around and these big foam hand shapes with the index finger pointing up. Gosh, they act like crazy fools. And, of course, they know everyone with season tickets in their section," Lonnie laughed.
Then you should write a check to Bud," Ruby suggested. "Right now."
"Uh, it's kinda pricey. I talked to Bud and asked if I could send him the money later. He said it was okay."
"They have four children, Lonnie," Ruby shot the tall brunette a disgusted look.
"Yeah, but he said it was okay."
"No," she turned and picked up the baby from the bassinet. "What else could he say? No, you need to write them a check right away. They shouldn't have to wait for our share."
"Take it out of savings," she put the baby on a towel on the bed and began to change the kicking infant. Their door was closed so Mrs. Shaeker couldn't hear their conversation. "You can always replace it when you get your bonus."
"Our savings are getting kinda thin.." Lonnie protested.
"Is there enough?"
"Yes, but it will limit what we can spend on each other for Christmas." Lonnie looked over sheepishly, "unless we use one or the other of the credit cards."
"No. We'll just spend less on each other. Write Bud a check, honey. Do it now."
Lonnie frowned. Her brother had said it was okay. This was going to screw everything up.
"Is that his real name?" Ruby asked, as she wiped and powdered the tiny baby's bottom.
"No. His real name is Robert Mortimer Shaeker after Daddy and Grandpa Briedman. When we were kids I tried calling him "Mort, Mort, grunt and snort" but then he'd call me "Mizzy Lizzie, in a tizzy." Uh, my middle name's Elizabeth. So I didn't tease him anymore and he didn't either."
Ruby smiled. "I knew your middle name was Elizabeth, silly. Your Mom told me. That's why I thought Bethy here should have that name. That and because of your Mom. I knew you'd like it."
"It's a good name," Lonnie agreed. "Thank you. And Mom's thrilled."
"Here," Ruby handed Lonnie the dirty diaper. "Go rinse it in the toilet and put the diaper in the diaper pail in there."
Lonnie wrinkled her nose and went to do as she was told. She returned wiping her washed hands on a hand towel. "Can't we use the throw away kind of diapers?" she whispered as she shut the door.
Ruby smiled. "When your mother's gone. So why is your brother called 'Bud' then? Robert's a nice name," Ruby reached for the diaper pin she'd stuck in the bed.
Lonnie laughed. "Yeah, but it was already being used. And Daddy's not fond of "Bob". He might have gone for using "Robby" for my brother, but they got to calling him "Bud" or "Buddy" instead. They weren't about to call him "Junior" or "Mortimer". But I guess it made Grandpa real happy to have someone named after him."
"That's nice. Write Bud the check, honey. Then I'll show you the little things I made for your folks."
"You made things for the folks?" Lonnie was surprised at that. When?
"Yes. Your Mom fixed me that sewing basket." She pointed to a basket on the floor just under the bed. Lonnie had seen it but hadn't paid much attention to it. "I did a lot of sewing after the catalogs were all done."
"You did? I didn't know that."
"Well, you had to be at work most of the time. I'm not surprised you didn't know. I made things for our little Pumpkin here and your folks." She pressed her lips to the baby's tummy, avoiding the healing belly button, and blew a soft raspberry. The baby reacted by kicking harder and gurgling in delight. "There you go, dumpling," Ruby purred, slipping on the rubber pants and pulling down the long dress, "all cleaned up." She looked at Lonnie who was watching with fascination. "You write the check while I dig out their presents. I'm going to wrap them this afternoon. What time's Mom's flight tomorrow?"
"Uh, eleven, I think."
Lonnie was amazed at the items Ruby withdrew from the bottom dresser drawer once she'd handed the baby off to Lonnie. There was a notebook sized photo album with a puffy calico cover. It had a heart shape in the middle with a picture of the four of them from the joining ceremony. Then the pictures from the sock drawer had been carefully placed on pages inside, labeled and dated.
Next was a small soft calico bunny sitting holding a cloth covered cardboard frame with a picture of little Bethy in it. The other little gifts were plastic picture holders filled with the other baby pictures Lonnie had run off, trimmed to fit. One for each of the couple. A cardboard, cloth-covered cover said "Grandma" on one and "Grandpa" on the other. They were just small carry-around sleeves she'd found at the variety store by the motor vehicles department. She and her mother-in-law had taken a minute to go through it before they came home.
"Mom didn't see me get them. They weren't very expensive. Just something to carry in a purse or pocket or keep in a desk."
"They're gonna love those, honey."
"I hope so."
The next day came quickly. Lonnie's mother spent every one of her free moments holding the small infant. Before her luggage was closed in finality, Ruby went into the bedroom and came out with the wrapped packages for the woman to slip into her suitcase. "Just some little things," she said, "from our family to slip under your tree."
Her mother had told them about the camera and Lonnie took a large number of pictures before she left. Her Mom with the baby. Her Mom hugging Ruby. Her Mom diapering little Bethy. That one, Lonnie told her mother, they could all tease Beth about when she was an adult.
Lonnie helped her mother load the luggage into her rental then climbed into her jeep and followed behind to make sure she'd get off all right. Ruby and her mother-in-law had bid a tearful goodbye at the condo door and she'd kissed the baby at least a hundred times.
The weather had turned colder and the airport was in the beginning part of the Columbia Gorge where it was always the worst. But while it was plenty wet and cold, it was not icy as the Gorge had been earlier. Once there, Lonnie helped her mother turn in the rental then got her and her luggage to the correct gate.
"You take good care of Ruby and my little grandbaby," her mother directed. "I wrote her doctor's appointment on the calendar."
Lonnie grinned. "Okay, Mom. I can probably get off to go with her now that the rush orders are done." She awkwardly hugged her mother. "Call us so we know you've arrived safely. We can't thank you enough for everything. Have a wonderful Christmas. Tell Buddy and his bunch 'happy holidays'. And tell Daddy how much we've missed him."
A large crowd was trying to enter the plane ramp and the two of them were causing somewhat of a bottle neck at the door. Everyone was trying to squeeze around them. "You have a wonderful family, Lonnie. Do right by them. " The older woman suddenly noticed the holdup they were causing. "Gracious."
Her mother turned to join the moving crowd.
"Love you, Mom," Lonnie said softly to herself, watching her mother walk away.
The woman turned and flashed the largest smile Lonnie had ever seen her way. Then she turned and was lost in the crowd.
Outside Lonnie shaded her eyes and watched the jet take off into the sky as she climbed into her jeep in the parking lot. There was always such a feeling of loss somehow when seeing family off at the airport. She took out her phone and dialed.
"Hey, honey. Mom's plane just took off. Do you want me to pick something up for dinner on my way home?"
"Sure. Fish and chips, tacos or chicken?"
"Chicken." There was a pause, "I'm going to miss her so much."
"Yeah," Lonnie agreed. "Me, too."
A new baby assured that they were very busy. Though they missed Lonnie's parents and her mother's help in particular, the older woman had left with the washing done and the cupboards filled. It was a good thing, because the new baby was nearly an overwhelming addition on top of recovering from surgery and having Christmas only a couple days away.
Ruby was completely unfamiliar with the outside world around them. Lonnie drew a map for Ruby of the closest shopping center and Ruby drove nervously there once Lonnie was home from work to babysit. Now that her name was put on all the accounts, Ruby would be doing most of the shopping that needed doing, grocery and otherwise.
They hung the baby's stocking that Ruby had sewn by hand and wrapped some small treasures she'd picked up, sitting them under the tree. On Christmas Ruby fixed a ham dinner and they played Christmas music while they unwrapped their gifts then ate.
Fancy clothes were too expensive for their budget. But Lonnie got a beautiful fleece, soft, blue V-neck pullover sweater that matched her eyes, a black turtleneck to wear under it and an astronomy book she wanted.
Ruby got a special dressy emerald sweat pant outfit that was made for nursing mothers. It had velcro fasteners on each side, allowing feeding without ruffling too much of the outfit. Lonnie had ordered it online and it had arrived by mail on Christmas Eve day. Lonnie had been nervously watching for it. Ruby also got some nursing bras that Lonnie thought she probably wouldn't buy for herself, a diary she'd said she wanted and a small jar of relaxing bath salts.
The baby got a baby pack holder, a small picture-frame ornament for the tree and Ruby had handmade an infant soft toy bunny. It was darling. It matched the one holding the picture of Bethy for Lonnie's parents.
"You could sell those, honey," Lonnie remarked. They were very cute.
There were many small, unique gifts her parents had picked up from the thrift store for them. Among them was a wooden tray, darling pot holders, an unusual vase with the same colors as their Munter painting, and some blue glass votive candle holders that went well with the painting in the bedroom.
The baby also got an expensive new car seat that turned into a stroller from Lonnie's parents. In the afternoon they called and talked to all of Lonnie's family to wish them a Merry Christmas.
They might not have been millionaires, but neither had ever been so happy. It was a wonderful Christmas for them. The best either could remember having.
The ice storm the day after Christmas was reported nationwide. They awoke to the eerie almost fantasy-like vision of ice shrouded trees. A thick fog hung among the woods behind the condos and the streets were also clad in a white fog crusted with ice. The Gorge, as always, was hit the hardest. Many people were without electricity along the Columbia out east of town.
Lonnie considered herself and Ruby lucky until after breakfast when all their lights went out. She quickly pulled the Christmas tree over and shut the heavy drapes to keep in what heat they could, lit candles and used the override to light the gas fireplace. It put out heat. She turned on the gas oven.
The apartment was small and did not require that much heat to make it comfortable. But the fireplace and oven could not put out nearly enough heat to warm the entire condo.
Lonnie called work to say she wouldn't be in till later. They were out of power, too. She called around to see what hotels had power but found she was not the only one with that idea. The lines were jammed.
"I'm gonna keep calling till I get through," she muttered.
"It's pretty warm in here," Ruby moved the bassinet closer to the fireplace. "Can't we close off the rest of the rooms?"
"Yeah. But do you think it's good enough for the baby?"
"Honey, my family's house in Utah was colder than this and lots draftier."
"But you didn't have a young baby like ours."
"Yes, my sister had two of her little ones there during one winter. We had snow and ice and wind. It was cold all the time, it seemed like."
"I dunno. I don't want to risk Bethy's health. It could be days that the electricity's off."
"I don't really want to take her outside in this, even if it's just to the car. Can't we close off the hall? Like you said, the rooms are small. And those are lined drapes on the window wall."
"Sure. We can hang some blankets at the hall entrance. That's what I did last year when the lights went out."
"Do they go out every year?"
"No. Not at all. But the weather's been so strange of late."
"Well, you hang the blankets and I'll whip up some biscuits to bake. Might as well make use of the oven while it's on. Maybe I'll put a roast in, too."
Lonnie hung the blankets and agreed that they were able to trap a good deal of the heat in the room. It was quite cozy.
Ruby put a bonnet and a heavier outfit on little Beth before putting her back in her bassinet. By the time they assembled enough candles for light, got the blankets set and the biscuits were out of the oven, it was lunch time. Lonnie sat in the rocker before the fireplace, the baby in her body pack snuggled against her chest, covered with a baby blanket. She gently rocked the sleeping infant. Ruby brought out hot soup and biscuits. It had the feel of camping.
"I don't think we've lost all that much heat," Ruby smiled.
"I don't know," Lonnie still worried.
"It's comfortable, honey."
"But for how long?"
"I don't know that. But I think we could get by for several days like this without a lot of discomfort." She looked around. "We could sleep in here easily enough." She looked at the floor. Not there. No, they'd just drag the chaise lounge back in and use that and the couch. Course they might loose a lot of the heat to the out of doors by getting it in. She had just finished a scowl from that prospect when the lights flickered and came back on.
"Yea!" they both called at once. "Wohoo," Ruby added, doing a little dance complete with a butt wiggle, that not only made Lonnie laugh, but charmed her completely. Gods, Ruby's about as cute as they come.
Lonnie made sure the heat came back on properly while Ruby blew out candles. They waited till the temperature was normalized in all the rooms before they took down the blankets and opened the drapes again.
"How long were you without electricity last year?" Ruby asked.
"Uh, we were out for two or three days, I think," Lonnie replied. "I didn't care all that much cause I was at work most of the day and found it comfortable enough when I got home at night. Cheryl went to her friend's place to wait it out. They didn't lose their electricity."
She saw the look of discomfort on Ruby's face when she mentioned Cheryl. She added softly, "All we had was a sex life, honey. It never was a love life."
Ruby nodded mutely. Their relationship, hers and Lonnie's, did not include a sex life at the moment...not yet. And their love life was sincere but platonic. She did feel that Lonnie loved her. She was quite sure of that, actually. And she certainly loved Lonnie.
She felt an immediate heat and intensity looking into the gorgeous blue eyes rimmed with dark curly lashes of her partner, framed in her Mediterranean coloring and dramatic raven colored hair. She would not have to ignore those feelings much longer. Ruby counted herself extremely lucky. Their relationship, already good, could only expand and grow. She had given her heart. She had given her hand. And when she was healed, when she was well, she would give her all!
Ruby wondered if Cheryl's "friend" of last year was her current friend of today. Thank you, Cheryl, for finding other friends. She looked at Lonnie. What were we talking about? Gods, this woman is distracting. Oh, yes. She cleared her throat, "I think we can keep it pretty cozy in here for a few days at least, if it happens again that is," the blonde forced her attention back to the room. The small apartment amazed her. It was perfect in so many ways. She walked in to get the grocery list from the kitchen. "But I'm adding candles to the list. Just in case."
"I have some oil lamps down in storage. We could always dig those out."
"Okay. Uh, it looks like we're having roast for dinner tonight, hon."
Lonnie placed a call to work. Their electricity was back on, too. The presses were running. "I'd better get going. I'm just glad we aren't swamped with work right now. I should be home on time."
Life as a family was a little more complicated, Lonnie decided, but oh, so worth it. She'd never thought about surviving bad weather with a tiny baby before. How her life had changed. And how it was to change still.
It wasn't long before the phone rang. Lonnie's parents had seen on television that they'd had a terrible ice storm and wanted to know how they were surviving. Now that things were back to normal, Lonnie let Ruby talk to them while she headed out to work. The main streets were sanded. Only their side street would be bad. But she had a four-wheel drive jeep.
Fortunately, their electricity stayed on after that. Later that night Lonnie said driving was lots easier coming home. Downtown streets were bare. She was glad it hadn't been snowfall that caused the trouble since the terrible floods from the year before, the hundred year floods, would have a chance to make a repeat performance that way if it melted too quickly. As it was, the ice would all but evaporate with enough sunlight.
Chase called later that night. They had arrived back in town in the midst of this big ice storm. Took them hours to get home from the airport. Lonnie invited them over to play cards the next night since the newly-joined were going to a party on Saturday night. Many places had their electricity back. She told them Ruby would make a cake for the occasion. They cheerfully accepted. They had vacation pictures to show.
Ruby had decided that she would start doing easy exercises the day after Christmas. Eventually, when she felt the baby was old enough, she would bundle her up, put her in the car carrier and take her with when she went down to the exercise room. The blonde was self conscious about her weight so two days after Christmas she began her schedule of light exercising in the living room. It felt good to be able to bend over again.
Her build tended to be an athletic one, toned over the years with plenty of hard farm work. Being stationary so long had taken its toll, and she was eager to get her muscles working and back in shape. And she wanted to look as attractive as she could, not only for her own sake, but to distract and attract Lonnie as well. Soon, she told herself. Soon.
It was good to see Maddy and Chase again that night. They looked very tan, relaxed and happy, if not a little annoyed at the ice storm. Their trip to Hawaii had been marvelous and they had the pictures to prove it, which they eagerly showed Lonnie and Ruby. Then they talked about their Christmas and how they had each talked with both their parents by phone from Hawaii on Christmas day.
Chase's parents knew of their lifestyle and weren't too happy but they reluctantly accepted Maddy. They lived five or six hours away from Portland through the Gorge and into Washington. Neither set of parents had been at their large joining celebration, however. Chase's parents had chosen not to attend and Maddy's parents were in the midwest and didn't even know that Maddy was gay. She saw no reason to tell them.
The baby was a big hit. They each took a turn holding her and cooing to her. Lonnie and Ruby chuckled about how they acted like the baby was fine crystal and might break, forgetting that they had done the same just two short weeks before.
Lonnie changed her and Ruby rocked and fed her while the others sat softly chatting. Finally little Beth fell asleep and they played some pinochle. It had been a long time, but all had played before. Lonnie said it would be like riding a bike. They'd remember once they got back to it. They did.
Nobody minded the interruptions when the baby fussed and had to be changed. Their guests were completely taken with the little girl. They offered to babysit any time they were available. The coffee and cake was another big hit. A fun evening, all tolled.
"Tell Aunt Maddy and Aunt Chase bye bye and drive carefully," Lonnie cooed to the infant in her arms when they were ready to leave.
"Do we get to be honorary Aunts?" Chase asked seriously.
"Sure," Lonnie said, glancing quickly at Ruby, who was nodding 'yes'. "We're family." That drew a huge smile from both guests.
"We are, aren't we?" Chase said softly.
"You betcha," Lonnie replied.
Now the two guests made an even bigger fuss over the baby. By the time they left, Lonnie and Ruby felt very pleased. It had been fun and they had made arrangements to do it again in two weeks, weather willing.
Maddy had been invited to come and use the exercise and swimming facilities on Tuesday mornings with Ruby when the baby was a little older. She was delighted and agreed she would when she could.
Though she'd lived there since before Thanksgiving, Ruby had never been in the laundry rooms. As it was Saturday and Lonnie was home, Ruby left her to babysit while she made her way to the busy room with their large bag of laundry. She was very shy and did not make friends the way her mother-in-law had. But she found it interesting watching the others chat and do their washing.
She perked up when she saw Mrs. Nelson and her granddaughter come in. The older woman asked about Liz and Robert then wanted to know what Ruby was reading. Unfortunately, she'd had no time to keep up with her reading.
"You must read my book about the Ashes," Mrs. Nelson intimated. "I just finished it. I'll loan it to you, if you'd like."
Ruby smiled. She'd be delighted to borrow the book. Then the older woman asked about the baby and Ruby told her all about the tiny girl. The older woman and her granddaughter stopped by later to sneak a quick peek at the sleeping infant on their way back to their own condo. And they stayed to enjoy a piece of cake and coffee while they were there. Later the granddaughter ran by and dropped off the loaner book. Ruby wondered when she'd have time to read the best seller, but decided she'd just make time when she could.
On New Year's Eve day the desk called up to tell them a large package had arrived for them. Lonnie went down to get it. When they unwrapped it, it was a very large, white, fuzzy stuffed bear to "Our Darling Little Niece" from "Aunt Chase and Aunt Maddy". It was big enough to sit in the rocker by itself. They both laughed over the large bear and sat him in the nursery on the couch.
They called Lonnie's parents early that evening since it was later there. It had been windy most of the afternoon and seemed to get considerably windier as the night dragged on. They could hear the window walls rattling with the heavier gusts. Lonnie made sure the drapes were pulled, turned up the heat and kept the fireplace running full blast, just in case the electricity went out.
Occasionally they'd hear the sounds of branches cracking and falling in the woods. At about nine the lights did flicker and go out. They put the bassinet in the living room and hung blankets in the hallway as before to keep the heat in one room.
They turned on the oven and heated water on one burner. They were glad they wouldn't have to try taking such a small baby out in the dead of night on a windy, wintry New Year's Eve. And they'd already decided they could keep it cozy in the main room. Though they decided they'd know more about that by morning.
Candles were lit and the baby was put in her body pack, this time cuddled against Ruby since it was almost time for the infant to eat. They decided they'd take turns holding the baby in her body pack in the rocking chair wrapped warmly in a blanket around both. The other would catch a nap on the couch. Then, if by chance it became too cold by daybreak, they'd pack and find a warm place to stay. Or if it was still warm enough, they'd pull a lounge chair inside, hopefully without losing too much heat doing so. Then they'd be set for the duration.
An hour, then two passed. They found the heat was holding steady in the living room. The wind had calmed considerably. To their delight, at half past eleven that night the lights came back on. Again Lonnie reset everything and normality was returned to the condo.
They even banged on pans on the balcony at midnight, although they did it softly, hoping not to awaken the baby. In the distance they could hear party revelers setting off fireworks and on the tv they watched the big display at Fort Vancouver across the river.
New Year's Day was unseasonably warm, in the high fifties, nearly sixty. Everyone shook their heads at the strange weather they'd been experiencing. Ruby and Lonnie spent the day taking down the holiday decorations to store for the next year.
Their life was finally settling into a routine. The baby was healthy and growing steadily, Ruby was exercising and feeling much better, and their overall schedule had been adjusted to the infant's cycles.
"Lonnie Shaeker," The sleeves on Lonnie's blouse were rolled up as far as they'd go and her hands and arms were greasy dirty to her elbows. She wore a smudged workman's apron. She'd been hunkered over one of the printing machines trying to make an adjustment she just knew would save them from having to call a repairman. One simple repair and they could get back to work.
One of the men on the floor had handed her the phone and a rag. She wiped her hands as she answered, pulling the cord as far as it would reach.
"Hey, Lonnie, it's Nyri again."
"Hi, pal. What's up?"
"Is this a bad time?" Nyri caught the impatience in her friend's voice.
"No. Just trying to repair one of these big-piece-of-shit machines so we can finish this bugger job," Lonnie grumbled.
Nyri chuckled. "Glad I'm not interrupting. I'll be quick, then." Her voice now became more somber, "What does Ruby know about a motorcycle shop outside Boise?"
Lonnie paused. "I've never heard her mention a motorcycle shop." She thought a minute. She thought of the people Ruby had told her about. What did they drive? Raleigh had a pick up, she remembered that. And her roommate Nicole drove a car. She didn't know what her brothers drove or anyone in her family. "I've never even heard her mention anything about anyone with a motorcycle. Why?"
"They ran a credit check on her, under 'Ruby Jenningsford'."
A tendril of fear curled in Lonnie's gut. "Do you think it was him?"
"Maybe. Could be related to her purse being stolen, though. Could have taken her old checkbook and stopped at this shop trying to pay for a new bike with a check and her driver's license as ID. They'd change the picture, of course. They'd be turned down. After all, she closed her checking account before she left Seattle. One call would have told them that. And her debit card was canceled, of course. One swipe in their machine would tell them that."
"Will this be a bad mark against her?"
"No. Nothing's going against her credit, old or new. They're, uh, not, uh, connected. Anyway, that base is covered and isn't a concern. What bothers me is, they should have found out about her check or debit instantly. They shouldn't have had to run a credit check. But what's even more bothersome is, they used her last address and phone number from Seattle. She reported that her checkbook had the first Seattle address on it. She never changed it. And she said her stolen license had her dorm address from Spokane. So, how'd they get the other address?"
"I'll have to ask her if anything in her purse had her last address and phone number from Seattle."
"Do that, and let me know. I double checked in the book, but she wasn't in there at all. So they didn't get the information out of the phone book. Might be something simple. Maybe someone in her family is trying to get information on her, although there are more legal ways to do that. Did they have her last address in Seattle, the one she shared with two roommates?
"I don't know. I don't think so, but I'll ask her."
"Do, and get back to me soon, if you can. Oh, and ask her, just in case, if her name was on any of the utility bills or phone bill from her last address. Those could have been checked, I suppose. Let's see if we can narrow down all the possibilities."
Lonnie's heart skipped a beat, "Could it be, you know, a professional or something? A detective hired to find her, maybe?"
"That seems a little extreme, even for this guy. I'd guess that he likes to harass his victims, but I would seriously doubt that he'd go to that expense and trouble. It's more likely he'd work on keeping track himself, if this even has anything to do with him at all. This could be totally unrelated."
"But you can't rule it out?"
"No, we can't really rule anything out yet. How it works is, a professional doing a background check would look at public records: deeds, titles, births, deaths, marriage, divorce, credit information, business and criminal records, all from their office. And they'd follow any leads they'd found based on personal contacts. But where does the motorcycle shop tie in? That's why I'm thinking it's not a professional at work here."
"Right. But this guy could have worked there."
"Yes. That's correct. And you'd better believe I'll be checking that out. But I'd like to narrow it down first."
"Okay. I'll call you right back. Office or home number?"
Ruby put a hand on the bassinet she had rolled into the living room. Her exercises were finished for the day and she planned to bake bread today. It was easier keeping the baby close by. The little girl was fast asleep. Ruby quickly ran to answer the ringing phone. She'd just gotten the baby to sleep.
"I don't know anyone from a motorcycle shop or even anyone that owns a motorcycle," she said softly so as not to wake the sleeping child. "Why?"
She listened and her heart leapt, burning into her throat. "It was him, wasn't it?" she whispered. She heard Lonnie's reassurance that it might not be at all. She whirled her head towards the door. Had she locked it? She had. "No," she replied, "No one in my family owns a motorcycle." Fear gripped her. "Why? Why would he be doing this, Lonnie?"
She heard the soothing reply but looked frantically around the room. "What?" she asked. She'd missed Lonnie's last question. "No, as far as I know my family didn't have any idea where I was in Seattle at all...first address or last. Yes, I did turn in a change of address where I worked, but I don't remember having anything in my purse with that information on it. I don't know for sure. And they already had the utilities when I moved there, including the phone. My name wasn't on any of them. I just paid my share of the bills."
Her eyes searched the windows as she spoke, "Uh, let's see, the place I worked would have known my last address. My roommates knew, of course. And Nicole knew. I...I'll call her and see if she told anyone. Just a minute."
She put down the phone and hurried to the balcony doors. She checked quickly to make sure they were locked, then rushed back to the phone. "Yes, I can call my old roommates, too. But I'm not telling them where I am. I don't want them to know. Okay, I'll wait till you get home. I'll call Nicole." Then she added as she considered her friend, "She knows where I am."
That thought frightened her even more. Nicole knew where she was in Portland and none of the others did. But she didn't know Ruby'd changed her name. What if Nicole had given out her location? Would she have? Her friend had told her own parents in a moment of panic that Ruby was pregnant. They had told Ruby's family. That's how they knew about the baby. She'd asked Nicole to keep her Portland address secret. She'd said she would. But what if she'd been forced?
Ruby hung up the phone and lifted the sleeping infant into her shaking arms. Her heart was pounding. She turned the rocking chair with her foot to face the door and sat, slowly beginning to rock, the warm body of the child pressed protectively against her body. Why was he looking for her? Did he know about the baby? He had to mean them harm of some kind. Surely he wasn't going to try and claim paternity rights. What did he want?
Her baking was completely forgotten.
Continued in Chapter 7
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